Former ICMR epidemiologist Dr R R Gangakhedkar has expressed shock and sorrow over the death of Dr Smarajit Jana, who helped the children of sex workers a chance to fight discrimination through football, and was the founder of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Samiti. Dr Jana passed away in Kolkata on Saturday.
Dr Jana was also the founder of Durbar Sports Academy and had nurtured its journey from 2011 till date.
The Samiti is a collective of 65,000 sex workers in West Bengal. Established in 1992 in Sonagachi, the largest red-light area in Kolkata, it has been working for the rights of women and sex workers, and causes such as anti-human trafficking and HIV/AIDS prevention.
The organisation also used football to fight discrimination against the children of sex workers.
“He was a visionary who made a difference in the lives of sex workers…” Dr Gangakhedkar said. ‘I met him for the first time in 1992 in Kolkata while we were developing the HIV sentinel surveillance plan for India. He was working in the All India Institute of Public Health in Kolkata. He proposed to work among sex workers in Sonagachi. His insight and tremendous work led to development of what was later known as the Sonagachi Project globally,” said Dr Gangakhedkar, former director of Pune’s National AIDS Research Institute.
”I lost a very close friend, a sensitive and outspoken professional. Given that there is so much to do to bring equality for socially challenged populations, it is an irreparable loss…,” he said.
Tejaswi Sevekari, who runs Saheli, a sex workers’ collective in Pune, said Dr Jana’s death was a huge loss. “We have lost a pioneer in HIV AIDS intervention and sex workers collectivisation,” Sevekari said.
Bindumadhav Khire, gay activist and director of the Bindu Queer Rights Foundation Pune, said they had lost a great supporter of human rights who worked hard for the welfare of female sex workers, especially in the context of their right to health.